Santa Rosa City Council votes to begin review of city’s ‘constitution’

A committee of 21 Santa Rosa residents will next month begin a year’s long reconsideration of the city’s guiding government document — the city charter — before putting proposed changes forward to voters in November 2022.|

Twelve issues city council wants considered for the city’s charter

– The creation of an at-large Mayor elected by the city as a whole

– Instituting ranked choice voting in city council elections

– Further enshrining the city’s independent police auditor in city governance, and/or creating a citizen oversight commission. The police auditor position has sat open for more than three years.

– Increasing city council members’ pay

– Crafting a city budget for a two-year cycle as opposed to doing so every year

– Climate change

– Diversity, equity and inclusion

– Excise taxes, and how they can be implemented

– The regulation of rental properties

– Procurement policy reforms

– Adjusting the rules of quorums for city boards and commissions to ensure the bodies can continue their work

A committee of 21 Santa Rosa residents will next month begin a year-long reconsideration of the city’s guiding government document — the city charter — before putting proposed changes forward to voters in November 2022.

The charter is the city’s “constitution,” city attorney Sue Gallagher told the Santa Rosa City Council on Tuesday. It governs everything from the number of members on the council to the roles and duties of Santa Rosa’s police chief, city manager and other top officials.

Though the committee will have latitude to choose its focus once it gets going, the city council selected 12 issues it believes the charter review committee should consider in its work. Those included changes to the structure of municipal democracy such as raising council member pay, instituting ranked choice voting in elections, appointing an at-large elected mayor and crafting a city budget every two years instead of every year.

The council today selects a mayor from among its seven, district-based council seats. Council members are paid a stipend of $800 a month, a figure some council members have argued falls well short of the time required for the job and discourages those who are not wealthy and retired from seeking the office.

Under state law, however, the salary could be raised by $440 a month, Gallagher said. If it chose to, the council could legally grant itself a raise without leaving it to the charter committee, Gallagher said. The council had the authority to implement changes on a number of items on the council’s list, which also included the hot-button issue of rental property reform. A day after the council voted on the charter committee, the city announced it was opening an emergency ordinance process to confront growing complaints from residents about short-term rental properties.

In the wake of the Dominic Foppoli scandal in Windsor, where the embattled former mayor clung to power for weeks after public accusations of sexual assault and abuse by as many as nine women, the council also recommended the committee consider a process to remove an elected mayor or council member for misconduct.

The council also added overarching challenges including climate change and diversity, equity and inclusion to the list, though council members were split on how those issues could make it into the city charter. Councilwoman Victoria Fleming, for example, suggested the charter could be revised to incorporate climate change calculations into city officials’ day-to-day decision making.

“We need to be really clear about these values if we want to see progress on them,“ Fleming said.

Other council members worried the list should be kept shorter, in hopes of ultimately a small package going before voters. When put on the ballot, a long list of charter changes could generate “voter fatigue,” Councilman John Sawyer and others worried.

Ultimately, the council voted 5-2 to advance the charter review with 12 suggested issues. Councilman Jack Tibbetts and Mayor Chris Rogers opposed the motion, seeking to limit the number of topics on the committee’s plate.

The council’s vote Tuesday to form a charter review committee formally began a process that has occurred every decade since 1994. Previous reviews have ended with voters deciding on whether to raise council members’ pay, institute campaign finance laws or switch to district-based elections for council seats.

City residents voted soundly against the latter in 2012, but the city was ultimately forced into the change in 2017 by a threatened lawsuit claiming the at-large elections disenfranchised minority voters.

Each of the seven council members will appoint three city residents to the committee, of any age and nearly any background, to the committee. Seated members of other Santa Rosa boards and commissions, and city employees, cannot serve under the current rules. However, the council indicated it intended to review that provision at a later meeting.

The city will soon begin accepting applications for the charter review committee. Interested residents can apply at the city clerk’s office or online at srcity.org/charter.

You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Graham at 707-526-8667 or andrew.graham@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @AndrewGraham88

Twelve issues city council wants considered for the city’s charter

– The creation of an at-large Mayor elected by the city as a whole

– Instituting ranked choice voting in city council elections

– Further enshrining the city’s independent police auditor in city governance, and/or creating a citizen oversight commission. The police auditor position has sat open for more than three years.

– Increasing city council members’ pay

– Crafting a city budget for a two-year cycle as opposed to doing so every year

– Climate change

– Diversity, equity and inclusion

– Excise taxes, and how they can be implemented

– The regulation of rental properties

– Procurement policy reforms

– Adjusting the rules of quorums for city boards and commissions to ensure the bodies can continue their work

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